Have you ever felt rebellious? I have. Have you ever been rebellious? I have. This doesn’t make you or me a rebel. But you will probably relate to what I am about to say.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of rebellious behavior, especially in teens. Back when I was a bishop, I worked with some rebellious teens, and even some rebellious adults.
I’ve been thinking about this one for months. I am going to share some of what I see as the causes of rebellion. You might have the same or similar list; I hope you’ll add to this list in the comments below.
I think the point where it often begins is (1) feeling lost, or bad about ourselves or (2) leaving contaminated desires unchecked, or (3) feeling forced, or (4) out of touch with who we really are.
When we feel socially awkward (and who doesn’t feel that way sometimes?) and like we don’t fit in and that we don’t have friends, we tend to seek companionship among those who likewise feel like outsiders. We start to identify with contemptible company, with those who don’t have confidence in themselves or in the healthy guidance of peers or parents. We find dumb role models. And we do dumb things. Sometimes really dumb things. Which leads to feeling dumb about ourselves, like we don’t belong.
And nothing seems to speak louder to anyone than the need to belong and be accepted.
If we don’t feel accepted in our own homes or at church, it is natural to seek it elsewhere, And depending on where we seek it, it can lead to withdrawal and rebellion. (On the other hand, not feeling accepted at home where the home environment is unhealthy can also lead us on a positive path.)
When we don’t feel at home when we are at home, we feel like rebelling.
With our rebellion and mistakes comes shame and unless we have the wisdom and courage to deal with our mistakes in a responsible way, we will tend to run from our shame. And if we try to cover our shame, we will also bluster with pride which also produces a natural byproduct, contention. Pride and contention are kissing cousins. Shame and pride often send us further down the road and separate us or isolate us from safety and from loved ones.
With youth comes puberty and a new blossom of desire which we hardly understand and which rarely anyone sits down to explain to us. (I personally believe that these desires are wonderful and good and normal and healthy, but must be guided, directed and protected.) Without help, we don’t know how to handle our desires. They can become overwhelming to us, and without trusted guidance, we wander and experiment. Which can lead to shame. And more rebellion. And then separation and isolation.
And then there is the well-intended but overbearing parent. Maybe you had them; maybe you are them. The helicopter parent, the forceful parent, the threatening parent, the negative, the belittling, the untrusting parent. This parenting style does more to cause rebellious feelings than anything, I think. This parenting style is motivated primarily by fear.
I don’t know what it is, but it makes you mad. You feel like your agency has been tromped on. It makes you want to yell and scream and hide in your room or at your friend’s house. And run away. And drink. And smoke. And take drugs. And on and on. It makes you feel dishonored and not trusted or respected.
Respect and trust are very important in relationships. In fact, respect and trust are at the foundation of every healthy and sustainable relationship. Without them, relationships die. Love dies. And you cannot hold what you do not love or does not feel loved.
(My parents had plenty of problems on their hands [including me], but I am very grateful to say that they were not of the negative, belittling, or helicopter type.)
Being out of touch with who we really are, children of a loving God, opens us to a host of ills. As Kjerkegaard said, and I paraphrase, the only sin is to not be who you really are. Not understanding who we are often leads to not being who we are. It is the saddest thing. The further we stray from our true natures, the harder it is to hear the voice inside of us that tells us the truth about who we really are.
There are lots of reasons behind rebellion. I’ve only mentioned a few. We can be part of the solution, for ourselves and others. I’ll write about that soon.
(If you have ever felt or been rebellious, well, you are a normal human being.)